The Winnipeg Blue Bombers brain trust received a partial answer Monday night to their most vexing question heading into the 2014 CFL season -- Does Drew Willy have what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the CFL?
Making just his fifth professional start as the Bombers and Toronto Argonauts opened the CFL pre-season at Investors Group Field, Willy did not look overmatched or out of place in his first game as a Bomber since being acquired last winter from the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a trade just prior to the free agency deadline.
Willy started the game and played the majority of the first half, finishing his night a respectable 6-12 for 108 yards and 1 TD. Willy also rushed for 16 yards on a first quarter keeper that caught the Argos napping. And he also got a little lucky -- a first-quarter interception he threw was nullified by a late-hit penalty on the Argos.
Willy appeared to grow stronger as the game went on. After opening the game just 2-7, he completed four of his last five passes and looked exceptionally sharp as the architect of a nine-play, 76-yard drive midway through the second quarter that saw the Bombers convert on second down three times and which culminated in a six-yard touchdown pass from Willy to slotback Julian Feoli-Gudino.
"I just liked how we got in a rhythm for my last drive there," said Willy, who had four starts over two seasons in Saskatchewan. "It was fun to be out there with the guys -- we got some good plays going..."
Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said he liked what Willy and the rest of his QBs showed.
"He threw for a touchdown, moved the ball. A little bit of a slow start but he'll get better," said O'Shea. "They'll all get better. The effort was great. I'm not worried about that."
Willy left the game after his touchdown drive and made way for second-year Bombers pivot Max Hall, who was the favourite coming into training camp to be Willy's backup this season.
Hall was unable to find much traction on offence, overthrowing his intended receivers more than once and finishing the night just 3-7 for 24 yards.
Hall played about a quarter, taking over from Willy late in the second quarter and then yielding late in the third quarter to Brian Brohm, who the Bombers acquired from Hamilton in March for future considerations.
Brohm didn't show much on the stat sheet -- he went just 3-9 for 29 yards and fumbled -- but he did bring the crowd to its feet when he threaded a gorgeous 28-yard TD pass to WR Jaymar Johnson midway through the fourth quarter, only to have the strike nullified by a Winnipeg offside penalty.
Brohm left the game late in the fourth quarter to make way for Robert Marve, an NCAA standout at Miami and Purdue who the Bombers acquired as a free agent in March.
With not much time to make an impression, Marve got to work quickly. Entering the game with under five minutes to play, Marve immediately found rookie WR Donavon Kemp for a 48-yard catch and run.
Five plays later, Marve found Kemp again -- this time for a seven-yard touchdown with just 2:22 to play that capped an 85-yard drive and got the Bombers within two points of the Argos at 24-22.
But that was as close as the Bombers would get as a subsequent game-tying two-point convert failed when Marve's intended pass to slotback Aaron Woods was incomplete.
Marve finished the night 3-4 for 66 yards and one TD and was delighted with his brief appearance.
"It was awesome. Just first of all being in Winnipeg -- it's my first time in the stadium and seeing some action and playing Canadian football. I had a fun time out there. I'm a little disappointed with the loss but for the first pre-season game, I thought we made some strides."